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Alignable aims to help local businesses multiply their marketing power, starting in Boston's western suburbs and the Cape

Posted by Scott Kirsner  July 12, 2013 09:00 AM

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Here's an unlikely startup pairing: the co-founder of Invisalign, the transparent teeth-straightening system, and a former senior executive of Constant Contact, the Waltham e-mail marketing company. They've banded together to work on a venture that wants to help local businesses amplify their marketing reach. Their startup, Alignable, is already live in several of Boston's western suburbs and on Cape Cod. And it has raised a bit more than $1 million in initial funding from Boston Seed Capital, Longworth Venture Partners, NextView Ventures, and CrunchFund.

Alignable CEO Eric Groves, who spent a decade at Constant Contact, says that local businesses have tried a lot of Internet marketing strategies over the last decade, without a lot of success. (Can you say Groupon?) "What they found was that people might drive 20 miles in order to get a $30 massage, but those people wouldn't turn into loyal customers," he says. "But on the other hand there are all these locally-minded people who live near them who aren't deal-seekers. They prefer to buy locally." Yet it can be challenging for local businesses to figure out how to get those close-by customers in the door, since many advertising vehicles reach the entire Boston market (expensively) as opposed to people within a few miles' radius.

Alignable's solution involves a web-based platform that lets businesses market to each others' customers. If one company in Hyannis sells pools, and another sells patio furniture, why not get together to offer a package deal? Alignable makes that easy, and enables them to promote it to their respective e-mail lists and social media followings. Groves says, "It's about connecting local merchants with each other, and then helping them acquire new customers." There are also pages on the Alignable site that feature all of the events and special offers that are live in a given community; here's the page for Acton.

Groves says that Alignable is now building out analytics to collect data about which programs are most effective at making the cash register ring, and presenting that to Alignable's users.

The company has eight employees operating out of Matrix Partners' office in Waltham; two of them, in addition to Groves, are alumni of Constant Contact. Groves' co-founder is Venkat Krishnamurthy, previously at Checkpoint Systems and OATSystems. He began his entrepreneurial career as a co-founder of Invisalign, now publicly-traded.

I wrote last month about some of the challenges of selling new technologies to local retailers. Groves knows those challenges pretty well, having joined Constant Contact when it had just a handful of customers. His take: "When people build software or apps for local businesses, they don't shift the power to the local business. They try and retain it. And that doesn't work."

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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